franklin school dc


Franklin School and the History of Historic Preservation in DC



In the early 1950s, the Board of Education contemplated sale of several old school buildings to finance construction of an administrative headquarters building. In 1953, the proposed sale and demolition of award-winning Franklin School (1864-69) brought an immediate public outcry. School Board president C. Melvin Sharpe commented: “My 95-year-old mother can remember seeing the Franklin School model at the Philadelphia Exposition. She’s not so delighted to know that the same building may fall down over her son’s ears – any day now.”

By 1968, as plans for the building’s sale and demolition were proceeding, the American Association of School Administrators organized a group to find the means to preserve the building. A feasibility study prepared by Richard J. Passantino AIA of McLeod, Ferrara, Ensign & Partners was completed in 1969.

Don’t Tear It Down, Inc. (DTID), a citizen action group and predecessor of the DC Preservation League (DCPL), was founded on Earth Day in 1971. In 1972, a Bike-in for Buildings was organized by DTID with support from the National Trust For Historic Preservation and others. The 140 bikers rode through the city to call attention to historic buildings slated for demolition, ending with a rally in front of Franklin School. The event pressured the Mayor, City Council, and Board of Education to rehabilitate and reuse Franklin rather than selling it as surplus property.

Franklin School was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. In 1977, the DC Board of Education voted to preserve its historic buildings and sites and named Richard L. Hurlbut as its Historic Preservation Officer. Franklin and Sumner Schools were among those targeted for preservation. Following the successful rehabilitation of Sumner, 1981–1986, Hurlbut turned his attention to the restoration of Franklin.

In 1990, a Planned Unit Development negotiated with the city allowed increased density for the Prudential Building, then under construction on the adjacent K Street site, in exchange for nearly $3 million – largely for the exterior restoration of Franklin. Oehrlein & Associates was selected as architect of the exterior restoration. Working in compliance with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Restoration/Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings, repairing or replacing in-kind deteriorated and missing elements – returning the exterior of the building to its historic appearance.

In 1991, the DC Board of Education selected a new school superintendent and during his tenure efforts were made to relocate the school system’s administrative headquarters from leased space to underutilized school buildings owned by the school system.  Franklin School was envisioned as headquarters offices for the superintendent and Board of Education and its Great Hall would serve as the Board’s meeting room. In 1992-96, historic architect Marc Fetterman AIA of Fetterman Associates PC and architectural historian Tanya Edwards Beauchamp prepared an historic structures report for the interior restoration and rehabilitation of Franklin School and its successful 1996 nomination as a National Historic Landmark. Fetterman and Beauchamp, on behalf of the DC Preservation League, also prepared a Landmark designation application for the Interior of Franklin School. During this period, Fetterman completed programming and preliminary design for the project and the H Street Community Development Corporation was selected as developer. The project did not move forward in part due to the continuing deterioration of the City’s finances. Fetterman and Beauchamp worked for the DC Office of Planning in 2002 and their conceptual architectural reuse analysis of the building for the DC Office of Planning in 2002 recommended that the city retain ownership of the building and give primary consideration to developing it with a cultural / educational use. The Interior of Franklin School was listed in the DC Inventory of Historic Sites in 2003. Most recently used by the city as a homeless shelter, the DCPL included Franklin on its Most Endangered list in 2004-05.


Tanya Beauchamp, Historic Preservation Solutions for Adolf Cluss Buildings 1962-2005, with some additions by Marc Fetterman AIA, January 2010.

The full text was formerly available on a website of the city’s Office of Planning. It has since been removed.


Protests at Franklin School by “Don’t Tear It Down” in 1972, a major event in the history of the historic preservation movement in Washington, DC.

Photos courtesy Tanya Beauchamp